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Decline in Deschutes trout hurts local economy

Editor’s note: TU sent a handful of college students to the Pacific Northwest for this year’s TU Costa 5 Rivers Odyssey to study and fish in the Columbia River basin.

While floating the eight miles from Warm Springs to Trout Creek on the Deschutes River, you can’t help but notice the vast amounts of watercraft and fishermen that emerge. Thoughts of overusing this area for recreational purposes may have crossed your mind. 

For the fishing industry, this is not the case. For a long time, the Deschutes was home to a pristine dry-fly fishery. Every May, a salmon fly hatch would kick things off and give anglers the opportunity to catch a native redband trout. Other hatches also occurred that would bring people from all across the globe to central Oregon. 

Amy Hazel explains the current state of the Deschutes to the Oydssey Team. Photo: Matteo Moretti

John and Amy Hazel of Deschutes Angler Fly Shop and Deschutes River Alliance are first-0hand witnesses to the changes that have occurred over the past few decades. Collectively the Hazels have been guiding this river for over 60 years.

While spending the afternoon in their shop, they informed us on a few different fly shops and hotels that have had to close up due to the decline of the fishery on Deschutes. Today, there are only four hotels in Maupin, Ore., one of which will be closing soon symbolize the decline of fishing related tourism to the area. The Hazels explained to us that anglers want to catch native fish on a dry fly, and if this river is not producing that, then they will find somewhere else to go. 

The Deschutes is also home to the famous summer run of steelhead. Due to the large width of the river, it has become the perfect place to swing for steelhead on a two handed fly-rod. In fact, John was one of the first people to bring two-hand casting to the area.

“People used to line up along the river bank and watch us do all these crazy motions,” John said. The steelhead have seen a similar decline in population from their historic numbers making the winter months slow in the region. Luckily for the Hazels, they generate a large amount of online sales to keep them open during these difficult times. 

John Hazel with the original Sage spey rod. Photo: Matteo Moretti

The Hazels’ shop, Deshutes Anglers, is located in Maupin, and is a famous stop for many anglers. Being genuine and helpful, it is no wonder they are so successful. But it is not just the Hazels that are suffering. Small shops in the towns along the river are suffering, and people just like the Hazels may lose their jobs if things do not change.